While the history of Donald Fauntleroy Duck has been recorded by many; very few know the intimate details of the great actor and how influential his work has been, not only on American history, but the world. In fact, after extensive research, it’s clear that Donald is one of the most tragic, yet uplifting figures in Hollywood history.
Donald Duck was born in 1920 to Hortense McDuck (mother) and Quackmore Duck (father) in the slums of Chicago. With WWI only having ended two years ago, as well as the devastation of the 1918 Flu Pandemic, much of America was still licking its wounds from the massive loss of life.
It can be said that Donald had a fairly idyllic early childhood with his twin sister, Della Duck. But as he grew older he would end up being dreadfully bullied at school. Like the African-Americans and Asian-Americans, the Bird community was heavily discriminated against and were considered by many to be lesser beings. Many historians suggest his treatment during this time may have contributed to his infamous violent personality later in life.
As the Duck family had extensive connections to the navy, it wasn’t unusual for Donald and his sister to be dressed up in military-style clothing during their childhood.
In addition to this, his father, Captain Quackmore Duck, was considered by many to be a military hero, in spite of his Duck race. While most readers may have heard of him in relation to his service during WWI, it was in fact his service during the Spanish-American War in 1898 that should be more notable. Quackmore’s famed “Duck, Duck, Goose” maneuver single-handedly won the Puerto Rico Campaign in August 1898, and more or less delivered a US victory.
The stories that Quackmore told enthralled Donald, and the young duck grew to have a fascination with war and fighting for his country. Because of this it was hardly surprising that, at the age of 14, Donald would run away from home to join the US Navy. Obviously too young, the navy instead asked him to join their Film Division (codename: D.I.S.N.E.Y.) Donald excitedly agreed.
Due to the building of armed forces in Europe, the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt felt that the youth of America had to be slowly (but secretly) indoctrinated into wanting to join the armed forces. Thus from 1934 till the early 1940s, Donald appeared in dozens of navy-funded cartoons. These cartoons were considered a great success since navy recruitment greatly increased between 1934 and the outbreak of World War Two.
However, during the making of these cartoons, Donald was forced to work with a new character that the navy felt would be more appealing to children: Mickey Mouse.
Mickey Mouse, as history has recorded, was actually played by two actors. The first being Michael Jacob Mouse Sr., who played the role until his tragic death in 1935 during filming of The Band Concert. The role was then taken over by his son, Michael Jacob Mouse Jr.
The rivalry between Mickey and Donald has been well documented over the years, but very few people know that said rivalry was only between Donald and the younger Mickey.
In fact, according to many sources, Donald and Mickey Sr’s first meeting gave the impression that a solid friendship would blossom if it hadn’t been cut short by the latter’s untimely death. During the year they worked together both of them got along very well, and Donald was happy to play second fiddle to Mickey in a few cartoons.
The problems started in 1938 when, at the age of 18, Donald auditioned for the role of Rhett Butler in MGM’s adaptation of Gone with the Wind. The role of Butler was originally written as a young man, and Donald was thought to be one of the front runners for the role.
Rather suddenly the role was changed to a much older man, and the role was eventually won by Clark Gable; a former roommate of Mickey Sr.
Rumours arose almost immediately that Mickey Jr. had convinced MGM to cast an older actor in order to stop Donald gaining a foothold in Hollywood before him. Though Mickey Jr. has strongly denied these accusations, the rumours still persist even to this day.
Furious with being denied the role of a lifetime, Donald immediately schemed to topple Mickey Jr. from his throne at D.I.S.N.E.Y. Though he tried for a few years, his quest was ultimately a failure as, in 1940, Mickey Jr. won the lead role in the feature length movie Fantasia.
From then on Mickey Jr’s fame went through the roof, and he went on to be beloved by millions. Donald however, was to be left behind, and as a result of what he felt was a grave injustice, he threw himself into making more cartoons for the navy.
Sensing that the U.S. would soon be drawn into the war raging in Europe, in late 1941 the U.S. Army decided to start a new series of films. These films were intended to follow someone through enlistment and basic training in order to show the American people what military life was like.
The discrimination against the Jews in Europe reminded Donald of his own treatment when he was a child, and he immediately volunteered for these new films. Once allowed to leave by D.I.S.N.E.Y, he threw himself into making these new films for his country.
However, over time Donald’s mental state was starting to seriously deteriorate and some footage had to held back from the public (though they have now leaked onto YouTube.)
By the end of the war in 1945, Donald was beginning to suffer from hallucinations and severe sleep disorders. His behaviour became far more irritable and he began to lose his temper over very minor infractions.
Eventually in December 1947, neighbours of Donald called the police after disturbing sounds could be heard. When dragged out by the authorities, witnesses say that Donald was said to have been ranting and raving about ”Chipmunks’;’ and how they were trying to steal his Christmas tree. After holding him for a few hours, a judge ruled that Donald was to be committed until a doctor deemed him fit to re-enter society.
The following three years were not kind to Donald and he sunk into a deep depression. The army and navy managed to suppress the news of his mental breakdown, and because they had already filmed several dozen cartoons in advance, the general public believed that Donald was still making cartoons until 1959.
On release in 1950 though, Donald tried to reinvent himself as a serious actor and auditioned for several top films of the decade such as:
- Paramount’s 1950 At War with the Army (which he lost to Dean Martin)
- MGM’s 1952 Singing in the Rain (which he lost to Gene Kelly)
- MGM’s 1955 Guys and Dolls (which he lost to Marlon Brando)
Casting agents at the time suggest that he lost a lot of these roles due to his anger issues.
Somewhere in 1955 Donald was invited to one of Hugh Hefner‘s “Playmate Parties.” Both Hugh and Donald hit it off big time, resulting in Donald being invited to shoot for Playboy. For the next few years Donald spent his time photographing beautiful women around the world and lived a true playboy lifestyle.
Though approaching the age of 40, Donald ended up dating many of the most desired women of the day; such as Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. He is even said to have had a short fling with Marilyn Monroe, and that their relationship helped her get on the front cover of Playboy Magazine in 1958.
Though they had broken up by 1959 they remained close friends. Close acquaintances of the couple tell that it was in fact Donald that suggested Marilyn sing Happy Birthday to President John F. Kennedy in May 1962. Further sources say that he was ”heartbroken” and ”inconsolable” in the weeks following her death that summer.
By the mid-1960s, D.I.S.N.E.Y had taken on more commercial work in addition to its military output. They invited Donald back to film some educational pieces which he readily accepted. This would be the last time Donald would appear on screen for almost 20 years.
In the summer of 1966 Donald’s father passed away peacefully in his sleep. Having lost his father and his ex-lover over a relatively short period of time, Donald unfortunately turned to the bottle to drown his sorrows.
With the encouragement of his twin sister Della, Donald eventually checked himself into the Mayo Clinic in New York in order to seek help. Little did he know that this decision would change his life forever.
Over the next 18 months, Donald’s primary carer would be Dr. Daisy Duck (No relation).
With two Master’s degrees to her name, Dr. Duck was considered one of the top minds in her field. It was her that helped Donald overcome his drink problem, and to this day he credits her as ”the angel that saved my soul.”
In fact, Daisy not only helped Donald with his drinking, but also encouraged a pursuit in the music industry. With her assistance he was alcohol-free by the end of 1968, and by September 1969 he released his first album: ”The Three Caballeros.” Hugely successful, it entered the charts at number 4 and stayed in the top 10 for 27 weeks.
Throughout the 70s Donald expanded on his music and dipped his toe into a variety of music genres such as reggae or punk. Most famously, he wrote the song Waterloo in 1974 in honour of his ancestor, Frederik McDuck, who fought at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Throughout this time Daisy and Donald had struck up a relationship, and in the spring of 1977, Donald proposed to Daisy by playing a fake trailer at the beginning of a public showing of Star Wars. Sources say that on hearing Daisy say yes, the audience burst out into applause.
Finally, after being a bachelor for 57 years, Donald Duck happily married his sweetheart. The wedding was a huge public occasion and even made the front cover of international magazines such as O Casamento Do.
As the world entered the era of the 1980s, Donald received a phone call out of the blue from Mickey Mouse Jr. Wanting to bury the hatchet, Mickey Jr. tried his best to make amends for their years of conflict.
Donald, though having brought his anger under control since his days of youth, wasn’t sure how to deal with such a peace offering. But with the encouragement of his wife, Donald saw the light in making amends. As such, both Mickey Jr. and Donald went on to do Mickey’s Christmas Carol (released in December 1980)
Unfortunately this time of calmness would not last long, and in less than a year another tragedy struck the Duck family. In 1983 there was an outbreak of H1N1 bird-flu within the United States. This was the first reported case within the US and, for obvious reasons, bird-flu was considered extremely deadly to the Bird community.
Donald’s uncle, Scrooge McDuck, very uncharacteristically used many of his own millions to find a cure for the Bird community. While he was successful, unfortunately it was too late for Donald’s twin sister, Della.
In 1984 Della passed away from advanced stages of bird-flu, leaving behind 3 young children who Daisy and Donald immediately decided to adopt.
A few years later in 1988, Donald was asked to perform in a short scene for a new movie called ”Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Unsure at first whether he should join what was already a very crowded movie, Donald accepted on finding out he would be working with Daffy Duck, a person whose work he had long admired.
Donald turned out to love working with Daffy and considers those few days of work ”the most fun I’ve had in my working career.”
With lots of offers for returning to the big screen, Donald actually chose to focus on television and his own writing.
In 1987, Donald produced a show called Ducktales, which would be one of the industry’s first examples of reality TV. The show would follow his three nephews and their Uncle Scrooge on a variety of staged adventures. The show was wildly successful, and in turn paved the way for future reality TV shows, such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Donald would occasionally go back to D.I.S.N.E.Y throughout the 90s and shoot a few more films, alongside Mickey and his other former co-stars like Goofy and Pluto. But his heart was never really in it and he did so more for his fans than for himself.
By the late 1990s, Donald had grown very popular as a voice-over artist and was offered the role for a lead character in the then untitled Star Wars film. Due to previous engagements he had to turn down the role of Jar Jar Binks, and instead provided the voices for various characters in the new PlayStation game: Kingdom Hearts.
Recently, in 2010, he took famed director Christopher Nolan to court over copyright breach in his new movie Inception. Donald claims that the ideas for the film were stolen from his 1992 comic book ‘‘The Dream of a Lifetime’.’
Donald has taken Mr Nolan and Warner Brothers Studios to court for $200 million in damages. Both Mr Nolan and Warner Brothers deny all accusations and, as of December 2011, the case is still in progress.
These days Donald Duck lives a rather quiet life with the occasional chat show appearance. He has led a fairly amazingly life that many of us could only hope to emulate. But even though he is now in his twilight years, it seems that such a great duck still has a lot more to give us.
Other Disney Biographies
Biography of Disney’s Goofy
Biography of Disney’s Pluto
Photo Credits: Penny’s Daybook, Pinterest, Daybreak Game Company, Youtube, Pinterest, DisneyClips, Latin Baby, DIS Board, DisneyClips, Halloween Specials, Pinterest, The Disney Elite,
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